It is no more news that draws for the UEFA Champions League Quarter finals have been ‘staged’ as is done every year.
Most fans of clubs handed tough draws (Juventus vs Real Madrid; Liverpool vs Man City; Sevilla fans) will never admit to the fairness of the event, while those with seemingly easy ties (Barcelona, Bayern Munich) are already booking tickets and looking forward to an easy ride into the semi-finals.
However, if what results of the Round of 16 is anything to go by, Sevilla’s victory tells us that an unfancied team can cause an upset, while Chelsea hitting the bar four times and conceding from all their errors gives teams trying to play on the counter belief that if they can cut out their errors an utilize their chances optimally, then they could be in dream land.
In a repeat of last season’s final, Juventus will be on revenge mission- regardless of what their executives would make us believe- to show that the 4-1 drubbing was a one-time occurrence. When captain and veteran goalkeeper, Gianluca Buffon talked about trying one more time after shedding tears ad infinitum, he wouldn’t have imagined Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. blocking his path to the only trophy that has eluded his well decorated career, again! The 40-year old joined Juventus in 2001 and it seems the Old lady’s unfortunate run has rubbed off of him.
The luckless Turin giants have lost in seven consecutive final appearances and Buffon was in goal for the last three of those loses (2003, 2015 and 2017). However, they stopped Real Madrid in 2015 at the semi final stage, therefore they have a better chance in the cosmos since it’s not a final. Defending champions, Real Madrid have however been bossing the UCL. The twelve-time winners who have won three of the past four editions and are the first team to defend Europe’s premier competition in its present format are on fire in Europe- as always- despite their rag-tag domestic season. Talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 12 goals this season and has scored in every game, is peaking at the business end of the season and that’s the sound of trouble for Juventus.
Runaway La Liga leaders, Barcelona would be wary of banana skins on the way to Rome for the second leg of their encounter against Roma. Ernesto Valverde- a very pragmatic coach- has surpassed expectations and is on course for a treble while his team is still unbeaten in the league. But Roma have an equally pragmatic coach, Eusebio di Francesco, who possesses the Ancelotti-esque attribute of finding the right tactics at the right moments. Edin Dzeko is in fine form coupled with the experienced Daniele De Rossi and the workaholic Radja Nainggolan, Roma could pose some trouble for the Catalans.
However, Lionel Messi needs no introduction, for when he is on form he is ruthless and Roma would need highly rated goalkeeper Alisson Becker to produce something majestic to prevent/stop a shellacking.
Talking of ruthlessness and shellacking, Bayern Munich packs it all in a punch. Besiktas was their latest victim and listening to captain Thomas Muller say they scored early to kill any hope of a comeback showed the level of motivation and professionalism within the team, and one can’t help but feel for Sevilla despite their Manchester heroics.
The German champions have always seen Europe as the yardstick for success but have been denied in recent years only by the brilliance of both Barcelona and Real Madrid. The Bavarians won in 2013 with current coach Jupp Heynckes. The 72-year old was called out of retirement earlier in the season to steady the ship, and he has changed the mentality of the team away from the laid back, care-free approach of the sacked Italian, Carlo Ancelotti.
And it definitely will be a care-free, brakes-off double header when Jurgen Klopp unleashes his gegenpressing and Liverpool’s ‘Fab three’ attack against Pep Guardiola’s upgraded tiki-taka style. The all-English tie is the pick of the bunch because Liverpool handed City their only defeat in the EPL in an entertaining contest which ended 4-3, and are the only team to score four goals against them this season. Space would be free for all in this encounter and with the pace of Salah and Mane, and the trickery of Firmino, Liverpool- who have Champions League pedigree- could repeat the feat. However, the pace of Sane and Sterling added to Kevin De Bruyne’s precise passes, David Silva’s slickness, an attack-minded defence and a reliable keeper in Ederson, Guardiola’s wards are primed to test Liverpool’s defence which has looked better since the £75 million signing of Virgil van Dijk. It’s a game of two ultra-attacking teams and only goals will settle this tie, I hope Jose Mourinho buys a ticket each for both games.